By Peter McLaren-Kennedy • 23 February 2022 • 22:00
A series of labour reforms announced in Belgium on Tuesday will soon allow workers to choose a four day work week, and will give employees the right to ignore their bosses after they finish work. That means the ability to turn off work devices and ignore work-related messages after hours without fear of reprisal.
Belgian Prime Minister Alexander de Croo told a press conference: “We have experienced two difficult years. With this agreement, we set a beacon for an economy that is more innovative, sustainable and digital. The aim is to be able to make people and businesses stronger.”
Workers in the gig economy will also receive stronger legal protections under the new rules approved by the multi-party coalition, while full-time employees will be able to work flexible schedules on demand.
Enacting the reforms is however months away as the draft legislation will have to pass through multiple readings by federal lawmakers.
Driving the change is the need for work-life balance of employees in both the public and private sectors, the reform package allowing employees to request a four-day work week.
The draft reform package agreed by the country’s federal government will grant employees the ability to request a four-day week. Employees will be allowed to work four days for six months after which they will need to make a choice, stay on four days or return to a five day week and with no negative consequences.
Belgian Labour Minister Pierre-Yves Dermagne said: “This has to be done at the request of the employee, with the employer giving solid reasons for any refusal.
“The period of six months was chosen so that an employee would not be stuck for too long in case of a wrong choice.”
Under the Belgian system, employees would be able to condense the current five-day week into four days. In practice this means maintaining a 38-hour working week, with an additional day off compensating for longer work days.
Labour minister Pierre-Yves Dermagne said the reforms would help people who are co-parenting with a former partner.
Workers will also be able to request variable work schedules. The minimum notice period for shifts is also changing, with companies now required to provide schedules at least seven days in advance.
“This would benefit those who wish to spend more time with their children,” Dermagne said. He added that the proposals would be especially helpful for divorced or separated parents who share custody of their children.
From January this year civil servants working for Belgium’s federal government were given the right to disconnect, allowing them to turn off work devices and ignore messages after hours without reprisals from bosses.
That will now be extended to include all Belgian workers, including those in the private sector, according to Dermagne.
Continuing he said: “The boundary between work and private life is becoming increasingly porous. These incessant demands can harm the physical and mental health of the worker.”
In practice, the new law will apply to all employers with more than 20 staff. Employers will be expected to negotiate with trade unions to include the right to disconnect in collective agreements.
The reform package also takes aim at the gig economy, with workers for platforms like Uber, Deliveroo and Just Eat Takeaway receiving insurance against work-related injuries and clearer rules defining who is, and who is not self-employed.
If someone wants to work as a self-employed person, they will be able to do so and will have more autonomy
In Belgium, gig workers meeting three out of eight possible criteria, including those whose work performance is monitored, who are unable to refuse jobs, or whose pay is decided by the company, will now be considered employees with rights to sick leave and paid time off.
Social Affairs Minister Frank Vandenbroucke said: “The rules do not prevent anyone from working as a freelancer or contractor.
“If someone wants to work as a self-employed person, they can do so and will have more autonomy.”
It remains to be seen if many more countries will follow Belgium’s lead and reform labour laws giving employees the right to ignore bosses after work.
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Originally from South Africa, Peter is based on the Costa Blanca and is a web reporter for the Euro Weekly News covering international and Spanish national news.
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